President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats suffered twin legislative defeats late on Wednesday in their push to toughen voting rights protections in the run-up to this November's mid-term elections that will determine control of Congress in 2023.
President Joe Biden defended his relationship with Black voters when pressed about his handling and timing on the issue of voting rights passage during a televised press conference with the White House press corps on Wednesday.
“I had their backs. I’ve never not had their backs,” said Biden, who was asked about criticisms and frustrations from Black Americans who feel his administration handled a growing wave of nationwide voter suppression with a lack of urgency.
Instead, some have argued, President Biden prioritized other national issues like infrastructure investment and a comprehensive social spending plan that failed in Congress after months of pushing for its passage, reports Reuters.
The president’s press conference happened just hours before the U.S. Senate ultimately voted against the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act on Wednesday night. After debating the bill for two consecutive days in a long shot bid to advance the voting rights legislation, Republicans tanked the bill. Soon after, two members of the Democrats’ own party refused to change Senate rules in order to overcome Republican opposition and pass the bill with a simple majority.
“We have not run out of options yet,” Biden said while standing at the podium in the East Room on the eve of the anniversary of his first year in office as the 46th president of the United States.
In a statement responding to the failed John Lewis legislation late Wednesday night, the president said he was “I am disappointed — but I am not deterred.”
He added, “My Administration will never stop fighting to ensure that the heart and soul of our democracy — the right to vote — is protected at all costs.”
The new Democratic bill was meant to supplement what the United States Supreme Court gutted from The Voting Rights Act of 1965, leaving Americans – particularly Black and Brown Americans – without the full voting protections of the landmark law.
A pivotal piece of that law guaranteed protections against voter discrimination and suppression. Known as “pre-clearance,” Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act required any new voting law in southern states with a history of suppressing Black and minority access to the ballot to get approval from the federal government. Thanks to rulings from the high court, Section 5 and Section 2 are essentially moot.
In his speech on Wednesday, President Biden lamented that the road to voting rights reform may be an arduous one.
“It’s going to be difficult. I make no bones about that. It’s going to be difficult, but we’re not there yet. We’ve not run out of options yet. And we will see how this moves,” he said.
During and after the press conference on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Senators debated for hours on Capitol Hill ahead of a vote on the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act. Vice President Kamala Harris also appeared on the Senate floor to preside in her official capacity as Senate president.